Council changes marijuana ordinance in hopes of compromise - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Council changes marijuana ordinance in hopes of compromise

(Source: WMC Action News 5) (Source: WMC Action News 5)

Memphis leaders are changing the wording in a proposed marijuana decriminalization ordinance in hopes of a compromise.

"Just trying to put in language that will make everyone comfortable,” Councilman Berlin Boyd said.

Boyd said politics are all about compromise, which is why he has offered up some changes to his ordinance that would decriminalize possession of half an ounce or less of marijuana.

"We tried to put a change in the ordinance where it will escalate on every offense. If you got caught multiple times, the fine would increase,” Boyd said.

The fines would start with $50 and increase, but there is an issue with that adjustment.

"Because article 6, section 14 of the Tennessee Constitution prohibits us from doing punitive fines over $50,” Boyd said.

They can, however, increase hours of community service.

John Marek is a criminal defense attorney and the head of the Memphis chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). He has been following the legal implications of the ordinance closely.

"It's kind of a complicated legal issue,” Marek said. “I had to study it until late last night to completely understand why they couldn't do it.”

Boyd said there are other changes to the ordinance, too.

"[We] wanted to address some of the concerns, so we identified and defined what marijuana or cannabis is. We also defined paraphernalia,” Boyd said.

Boyd said he has had several conversations with Memphis Police Department Director Mike Rallings, who came out adamantly against the ordinance.

"Main thing has been about discretion, just allowing them...instead of using words like shall...we can change shall to may,” Boyd said.

Marek said from a legal perspective, this was not necessary, but may ease some fears.

"But even if they didn't put that language in, officers still have discretion to charge under the state or local ordinance,” Marek said.

Both Marek and Boyd believe the changes, while small, are significant and could be the difference between the ordinance passing or not.

"Hopefully, it's to the police director's liking as well,” Boyd said. “If not, we're still pushing and moving forward."

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